Less than 18 percent of Americans say the church is the friendliest place in town, a recent survey reveals.
Though the church is ranked second behind "my home," which 35 percent of Americans listed, Group Publishing – which commissioned the survey – says the low number indicates that what is generally considered to be one of the safest havens in the world isn't seen as that friendly by most Americans.
Even among self-declared Christians, less than a quarter named the church as the friendliest place. Even fewer non-Christians, 7 percent, agreed.
With attendance across churches in the U.S. declining, Christians can't really afford not to be friendly, said Amy Nappa, who leads Group for Women's ministry team.
What makes a place friendly?
The some 750 surveyed Americans, 500 of whom were Christian, said the most important factor that makes a place friendly is "making me feel like I belong." Subsequent factors include "making me feel comfortable" and "at ease," conversation, smiles and being non-judgmental.
"What the survey revealed for us is that people are really starved for relationship when it comes to what they're looking for in the church," Chris Howley, director of research at Group Publishing, the Colorado-based firm specializing in church resources, told The Christian Post.
Simply having a greeter at the church door or performing generic gestures isn't going to cut it, he indicated.
Meaningful dialogue, getting to know the newcomer or member, listening to and responding to them on a "very real level" are just some ways to raise the friendliness meter in the church and reach more people for Christ, Howley listed.
"If we're serious about Kingdom work, we'll do everything we can to create an inviting atmosphere," he commented.
Churches fall behind restaurants, pubs, and sports bars when it comes to favorite places to meet new friends. Only 16 percent named church as their favorite place. Eleven percent chose "Online" as their favorite place to make new friends.
Howley speculates that what leads someone to a restaurant/pub/sports bar over a church can be the sense that no strings are attached.
"They can approach those places without an overwhelming sense of obligation," he explained. Lots of people go to church because they feel like "they have to." Whereas, at a restaurant, there's "nothing clouding over" their intent of just meeting new friends.
In another notable finding, ministers or religious leaders are ranked fifth on the friendliest people in town list. Most surveyed Americans named "a close friend" and "family member" as the friendliest person. Meanwhile, ministers were ranked behind neighbors and co-workers. Hairstylists, barbers and other service attendants weren't far behind.
In response, Howley recommends that ministers and church staff engage the church body more.
"People look at church as a place where communication is one-way from the pulpit to the pew. We're saying you'll gain more by speaking less and listening," he said.
Results are based on a blind study that did not reveal Group Publishing as the sponsor. No religious affiliation was associated with the effort.